What if all it takes is listening carefully?
Deep listening. The kind of listening we do when we look someone in the eyes and hear every word—not just with our ears but our hearts, too.
The type of listening that says: I’m here. I’m here for you, and I’m not going anywhere until I fully understand how you think and feel. Until I fully understand what it means to be you.
How different would the world be if we put this into practice? If we infused our conversations with sacred silence? If we created a safe space, without judgment, and without being in our heads constantly? What if instead of thinking what we’re going to say next, we allow the other person’s words to flow freely?
Our egos are strong. We want to be right at all costs. Our egos want to be the hero in our story. Anything that challenges our hero status feels like an attack toward us. Our egos are the ones that get in the way of truly growing in our relationship with ourselves and others.
But our egos are not our masters.
There is something within us that is much greater than our egos. It’s the part of us that knows, on a deep level, that one person’s pain is everyone’s pain—that there is no justice unless there is justice for all. Or that the remedy for a sick world is empathy.
It’s the same kind of empathy we enact when our partners come to us, exposing an open wound, and we learn how to tend to it instead of making it about us.
The kind of empathy we show when our children misbehave, and we give them the chance to explain themselves. We turn it into a teaching opportunity instead of labeling them as problematic.
The kind of empathy we show toward an oppressed collective when we take the time to listen to what they need instead of assuming or dismissing them.
The kind of empathy we show when we see a member of a different species in distress and choose to take action.
The kind of empathy we show when someone points out that our actions have consequences—that we affect other people, other species, the planet we live in. It’s the empathy we are utilizing when we subsequently start questioning our habits because of that comment. Because we are one with those people, those species, and the planet we live on.
All it takes is the willingness to listen and truly see those in front of us. But to do that, we need to realize that our need to be “right” creates walls between us.
I once met a woman who had lost her younger brother. It was a brief encounter, but full of meaning and emotion. She shared her story with me, a stranger, not fully knowing why, but I sensed that she needed to. I was surprised to see I needed it too.
Her story was horrific, like many of the stories that are still happening in the world. I don’t always listen deeply, but that day I did. I listened to it. I felt it. I felt the grief in her. I felt her love for her brother. At that moment, nothing seemed more important than being there with her in that sacred space that had been created by either chance or fate.
Then she had to go. And something within me made me say, “Thank you for sharing your story with me.” I still don’t know why I chose those words, but as soon as they came out, she looked at me and, without saying anything, hugged me.
That hug made me realize the importance of genuine, deep listening. Here was a stranger who had exposed her wound to me, who had chosen to trust me with her truth, who had let me see the world through her eyes for a brief moment. To me, it felt like a gift. Because the more we see through other people’s eyes, the more we heal and grow in a symbiotic way.
We carry our pain through life thinking we’re the only ones experiencing it, thinking we are all alone because of what makes us different. And our deepest desire is to be seen and understood, to be accepted for who we are, to have our feelings validated, to reveal our truth and not have it questioned. Here’s the secret: everyone we encounter wants the same thing.
It all starts with the willingness to listen carefully (even when our opinions differ). Even when we think we’re right and the other person is wrong. Even when we’re hurting, because chances are the other person is hurting too.
Sometimes we won’t be ready to look into another’s eyes, and that’s okay. The willingness to listen carefully includes the desire to recognize when we need to listen to our own bodies and our own souls—give ourselves time to rest and heal so that when we go back into the world, we bring forth our strongest self.
We have to go back.
No one heals in isolation. Every element in a forest cooperates to keep it alive and healthy.
Let us be forests.
Let us heal the world one conversation at a time.